President Honors Outstanding Early-Career Scientists
Today at the White House, President Obama will honor more than 100 outstanding early career scientists–the latest winners of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, including NASA scientists Benjamin Smith and Joshua K. Willis. The award is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on scientists and engineers in the early stages of their independent research careers. Annually, nine federal departments and agencies nominate the most meritorious young scientists and engineers--researchers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for strengthening America’s leadership in science and technology and contributing to the awarding agencies' missions.

"You have been selected for this honor not only because of your innovative research, but also for your demonstrated commitment to community service and public outreach," President Obama said in a letter to the winners. "Your achievements as scientists, engineers and engaged citizens are exemplary, and the value of your work is amplified by the inspiration you provide to others."

The awards, established by President Clinton in February 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected on the basis of two criteria: Pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and a commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach. Winning scientists and engineers receive up to a five-year research grant to further their study in support of critical government missions.

NASA recipient Joshua K. Willis' research focuses on the system of ocean currents called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). The AMOC helps to regulate the climate across much of Europe and throughout the North Atlantic. It has been theorized that this circulation could play a role in rapid climate change, causing cooling in some regions even as the planet warms overall. AMOC’s exact role in global warming, however, remains a mystery. Using data from several NASA satellites along with observations taken by thousands of Argo floats, which autonomously measure ocean properties and currents, Willis has developed a novel technique for estimating the strength of the AMOC and how it changes over time.

Benjamin Smith’s research is in the area of understanding changes in the Earth’s ice sheets and their contributions to sea level using satellite remote sensing. In particular, he has been a leader in the analysis of ICESat data and has been a key figure in the science definition activities of ICESat-ll. He has been instrumental in extracting elevation change information from ICESat in its compromised operations scenario (as a result of the premature failure of two of ICESat’s three lasers) and has published some of the most significant ICESat-based ice sheet change assessments to date.

Read the White House press release for more information.